At what age should I let my kid have a phone?

Posted on: 05/3/16 5:45 AM | by Jonathan McKee hear the question at every parenting workshop I teach. It comes in many forms:

“How young is too young for my kids to have their own phone?”

“I didn’t get my kid a phone… I just got them an iPad. Is that dangerous?”

“My 11-year-old daughter wants an Instagram account. Should I let her?

“What age should I let them have access to all of this stuff?!!”

Let me give you the quick answer: 13-years-old.

It’s a question I have to keep answering again and again for parents. So let me show you a few places where it’s been addressed in detail lately.

1. Last month I wrote an article on our PARENTING HELP column on titled “Are Smartphones & Social Media Too Dangerous for My Kids?” In that article I addressed the ‘age question’ specifically. Here’s just a snippet:

For years experts have been recommending parents wait until their kids are age 12 to give them their own mobile devices. Notice I didn’t just say “phones.” When I say devices I mean tablets, iTouch, laptops… especially devices that allow them access to the Internet and social media.

I’m not alone in this age recommendation. In fact, most experts recommend kids do not begin using social media until age 13. Most social media platforms require kids to be 13 to sign up because of the Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which prevents sites from collecting select information from kids under 13. Parents who allow their kids to sign up before then are allowing them to lie about their age.

I realize this is difficult when every other parent out there is giving their kids devices before they cut their first tooth. Our kids are sure to complain, “But Chris has his own iPad!”

This is where parents need to stop and ask themselves, “What is my role?” If you want to be the friend parent, or “peerant,” who gives into their kid’s every whim… then by all means, give em’ a phone. If you see your role as the Sherpa who will guide them along the road to adolescence successfully to adulthood, then wait until they’re 12…


 2. Then two weeks ago my friend Adam McLane, author and social media guru posted an intriguing article on his blog answering the ‘age question’ in excruciating detail. If you want to the letter of the law, see what he has to say. Here’s just a snippet:

The FTC has added some important clarifications which parents need to know about. And, despite what most parents seem to think, the FTC actually strengthened the laws/rules for online companies… they didn’t weaken them! So as much as your 11 year old seems mature enough to handle an Instagram account or she only exchanges Snapchats with her older sister… it’s still against the rules.

Here’s what has changed: (again, these rules are only for users under 13 years old)…


I realize this is one of those difficult situations as a parent. Let’s face it: parenting is hard! Sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with all of this (which is probably why 74% of parents just give up trying and “hope for the best.”)

Let me encourage you:

  1. Don’t give up! The bonding time you spend just hanging out with your kids, eating family dinners… any venue that puts you face to face with your kids… makes a huge impact! That’s why I packed my brand new book with 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kids!
  2. Guardrails are helpful. Your love for your kids doesn’t require you to be a drill sergeant or a disciplinarian… but it does require being educated enough to warn them of dangers and placing a few realistic guardrails to protect them.
  3. Keep current by doing exactly what you’re doing right now—reading an article from someone who did the research for you. Subscribe to articles like my blog, our PARENTING HELP articles, our YOUTH CULTURE WINDOW articles… all FREE… all easy to subscribe to in this one location right here.
  4. Spend a little time talking as a family and agreeing on some realistic boundaries that really work. Don’t be afraid to use books like my If I Had a Parenting Do Over to help guide you through this process.

2 Replies to “At what age should I let my kid have a phone?”

    1. Laura… good question. And realize, good parents often disagree on these kinds of decisions– how strict or how lenient to be. The one thing that every parenting expert DOES agree on is DIALOGUE ABOUT THIS all the time! So let me start by answering this way: whatever you decide to do, make sure you make it a dialogue with your kids so they are equipped to make these kinds of decisions on their own (My three kids are all out of the house now… so all of them are making these decisions on their own).

      The dangers with snapchat are mostly the fact that kids THINK “this is just temporary.” Or “who cares because this will disappear.” Most kids are pretty educated by now that these pictures CAN be screenshotted and are NOT temporary, but it’s a discussion parents really need to have with their kids. Another danger is the “speed” filter. Some kids have been trying to go fast in cars so they can snap a pic of them going over 100. See stories like this:

      But yes… ALL apps have dangers. The key is talking with your kids about being responsible with said apps. Obviously some are more dangerous than others- our article about that a while back:

      Hope this helps just a little bit!

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